Help me feel less weird about my name change!
September 30, 2015 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I’m changing my name (for non-marriage reasons) and having a hard time. Looking for advice on how to make this easier and more positive, how to normalize it in conversation with people and deal with rudeness or nosiness, and also on dealing with a sense of loss and finding ways or rites to mark and celebrate this change.

I’m a non-binary trans person, and am out as such in pretty much all areas of my life.

I am changing my birth name to a gender-neutral name. I love my new name and can’t wait to use a name that I’m comfortable with.

While most people are aware I’m changing my name for Gender Reasons, I’m also a pretty private person, generally, so I’ve been struggling with telling everyone about this big change in a way that gives them enough information, but doesn’t really encourage in-depth questioning. I’m lucky to have many wonderful people in my life to discuss gender stuff with, but I don’t want to go into it with everyone in the world. Any advice for negotiating boundaries around these conversations?

I’m also experiencing a lot more of a sense of loss than I thought, given how uncomfortable I’ve always felt about my birth name. I’d like to mark the occasion in ways that are more positive than just filing government paperwork. Any suggestions? Woo-y ideas totally welcome.
posted by ITheCosmos to Human Relations (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For the people you don't want to engage in the gender conversation with, can you just say that you've always hated/been uncomfortable with your birth name (which is true) so you finally decided to just change it? I don't think you need to go into more detail than that, but if they press you and ask stuff like "What did you hate about your birth name?" you can just say things like "It never felt like it fit and I never really felt like it suited me or my personality."
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 8:14 AM on September 30, 2015 [9 favorites]

Can you be more specific about who you are concerned about telling? I'm not sure I understand what you are asking. If these people are close enough in your life, wouldn't they be at least tangentially aware of your non-binary identity?

If you are talking about bureaucratic nonsense (having to show proof of legal name change for paperwork reasons -- which I often did in the early years that I legally changed my name) then there is no explanation needed other than here is the court order declaring my legal name.
posted by archimago at 8:28 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe this?

You: "Hey, I'm changing my name. Call me so-and-so from now on?"

Them: "Oh, why are you changing your name?"

You: "Eh, reasons. So, yeah, just call me by my new name."

Unless you run into assholes, that should generally work methinks.
posted by I-baLL at 9:03 AM on September 30, 2015

You could pose it as "So I think it's weird that your parents choose your name, and I decided it was time I chose my own! I'm excited about it!"

If that is the kind of thing you'd do - it's very ... hippie.

Also, I vote for a name change ceremony for you. I'm picturing something like a wood fire, outside, and your friends/family/important people around you, saying something nice about your new name, and saying goodbye to your old name. Like a naming ceremony for a newborn in an earthy kind of way.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 9:18 AM on September 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I’d like to mark the occasion in ways that are more positive than just filing government paperwork.

My aunt has been going by a different chosen name for about a year now. Next month she's getting it rubber-stamped and she's throwing a party on the day that she gets it stamped. Direct quote from the party invite:

"This is an epic motherfucking "thanks for the rubber stamp", ribbon-cutting kind of party, peeps!!

A court date has been set for October 1 at high noon. I'll walk out with papers that OFFICIALLY change my first name to Dela!! AHHHH!

I'm pumped. I wanna celebrate and I want YOU to join me."

I'm really close to her and it was interesting the different blow-back she got. Most people were totally cool with "I just didn't like my old name, so I changed it." For the more aggressive people she would just counter with "It's my name, why shouldn't I choose it?"

There's also always the great "Because I did." You don't gotta explain shit to nobody.
posted by mayonnaises at 9:48 AM on September 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

A friend did this, for pretty much the same reason. It was unavoidably awkward for a while, but the person was nice about forgiving occasional lapses and we all tried our best. I think it falls into the category of "a big deal for you and not a big deal for everyone else, which can be good (nobody cares that much) and bad (this is important to me why don't you care?!).

One thing I absolutely do not think you are obligated to do but which I would have found helpful is provide some clarity about what name and/or gendered pronoun you'd prefer for someone speaking about you in the past. As in: "remember freshman year when [soandso] fell and broke [his] tailbone?"
posted by Wretch729 at 10:02 AM on September 30, 2015

Hi, I totally did this! (Though not for gender reasons, just because I didn't like my name.)

I'm guessing you're mostly concerned with how to broach the topic to acquaintances like the doctor you see once a year, the folks on the other side of the office, etc.

Most acquaintance-level people will accept "I never liked my name, so I'm changing it to ____" as an explanation and not really push further. I've had several people ask why I picked my current name in a friendly, curious way. If you don't feel like giving more information about your name's significance to you, "Oh, it's a long story, I don't want to get into it now" should deter any reasonable person.

By the way, while all my close friends switched over to my new name pretty quickly, the ones I see less frequently still occasionally slip up with "Hi Oldname--I mean Owlcat, sorry!", and some of my more distant acquaintances have a hard time remembering what my new name is when we reconnect. I have had my new name for several years, and gently corrected people for years, and this still happens. Be gracious about it--most of these folks are not intentionally being jerks; they just have their own lives and don't remember everyone else's particulars. (Of course, if someone is obviously being a jerk, feel free to tear them a new one.)

Congratulations on doing an awesome thing for yourself! I hope all your government paperwork people are as nice as the ones I interacted with.
posted by Owlcat at 10:30 AM on September 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some playful, celebratory postcards printed for the occasion could be a marker for you and a fun way to tell everyone.
posted by harrietthespy at 10:31 AM on September 30, 2015

As a (binary) trans person who is doing the same thing, I would advise having a little elevator speech to head off 99% of the dumb questions. Be positive and confident and people will generally just roll with it.

"I changed my name from Gabriella/Gabriel to Robin. It's from [my favorite book, my dad's side of the family, my religious background]. It means ___ in [language]. I feel it suits me better, and bonus, it's easier to spell."

"But you don't look like a Robin"

"But I feel like one! Anyway, did you see the [episode of whatever]/sports game?"

Cheerful, upbeat, confident, redirect to something else. People are dumb and disrespectful and it's kind of exhausting. Sorry. If someone refuses to use your new name, you are 100% entitled to not spend time with anyone who disrespects you.
posted by desjardins at 10:41 AM on September 30, 2015 [8 favorites]

I legally changed my name for different reasons. The people nearest and dearest to me know why. And whenever someone not near and dear to me asks about it, I just say I changed it for "personal reasons" and leave it at that. If anyone gets pushy, I tell them it's a long story and drop the subject. As people above have said, you don't owe anyone an explanation.

I can't help you with a celebration because I just marched into the courthouse and changed it. Done deal. I'm not big on ceremony.
posted by patheral at 11:20 AM on September 30, 2015

I'm a huge fan of tiny rituals, especially ones that come from personal feelings and experiences rather than relying on established belief systems. In your shoes I'd probably throw myself a rebirthday party and nave some kind of symbolic transformation or demonstration. The Wikipedia page on naming ceremonies might give you some ideas
posted by itesser at 1:07 PM on September 30, 2015

"I've always loved the name [new name] so I finally changed it."

I think mentioning your past name or being vague about why you changed it opens up a conversation more so than just saying you changed it because you love [new name] so much.
posted by Crystalinne at 1:28 PM on September 30, 2015

When I changed my first and last name, I had a name pin made of new name. I wore it every day for about a month at work and at play. Co-workers said this helped them to remember my name.
When asked why I was wearing the pin, I simply said "I changed my name for reasons".
I said nothing more (about it) and continued on with the original thread of conversation. This worked well for the folks with manners.
posted by donaken at 1:52 PM on September 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

It's worth thinking some about how bothered you'll be if people use your old name. I'm binary trans and loathe my old name passionately, so "i dunno, I just like Leah better" wouldn't have worked for me -- I really had to get across that this was a big deal and not some lighthearted whimsical thing. (I also wanted people to stop even mentioning my old name -- no "Oh hey remember back when you were going by REDACTED" -- which again wouldn't have been so easy to make happen with a lighthearted approach.)

So, if that's where you're at, you might want to forgo the usual advice to keep it light and positive. Maybe something more like "I always hated my old name -- it's a long story, just bad associations. I'd rather go with one I like better."

On the other hand, your feelings might be totally different than mine. Just something to think about.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:12 PM on September 30, 2015

Best answer: Congratulations on the name change! I switched names recently for the same reasons, and although I did it very slowly over the last year or so, your feelings really resonate with me. I found this Agony Auncle column by CN Lester very helpful: Being nonbinary and fearing change.
posted by daisyk at 3:38 AM on October 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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